Thrilling end at Wanderers

Thrilling end at Wanderers

Thrilling end at Wanderers

Mud stains marked the otherwise immaculate flannels of Faf Du Plessis and AB de Villiers, revealing the titanic battle they waged on the final day of an extraordinary Test.

India were in front of the race for four days of the first Test, but De Villiers (103) and Du Plessis (134) notched up brilliant hundreds on Sunday as South Africa, overnight 138 for two, garnered 450 for seven, while chasing 458, in their second innings to hang on for a dramatic draw. In the process, the two protagonists shared a superb 205-run stand, the all time highest fifth-wicket alliance in the fourth innings.

Both De Villiers, who made his 18th Test hundred, and Du Plessis are not unfamiliar to such situations, having batted 68 overs to compile 89 runs to draw the Adelaide Test against Australia in November 2012. They did the job for South Africa a year later at the Wanderers against India as the visitors’ hopes for an easy victory vanished gradually.

If they were aiming for a draw against Australia, De Villiers and Du Plessis batted with a lot more freedom that brought South Africa to the doorstep of a famous victory. Indian skipper MS Dhoni tried everything at his disposal to snap the alliance but the South African pair was equally determined -- blocking or leaving all the dangerous deliveries and punishing the loose ones on either side of the wicket.

Just when the alliance seemed to take South Africa past the tape, De Villiers dragged an Ishant Sharma delivery on to his stumps, and the hosts were 56 runs away from the target. Mohammed Shami soon brought more joy to the Indian camp, castling Jean Paul Duminy to reduce the hosts to 407 for six.

But Du Plessis, an iron-willed competitor, continued to push South Africa towards target in the company of a solid Vernon Philander. However, an attempt to grab a quick single signaled the end of his stay as a direct hit from Ajinkya Rahane at mid-off beat his desperate drive, ending his seven-hour vigil. South Africa needed 16 runs from 19 balls at that stage and it was clear that they wouldn’t look for a win from that point with no recognised batsmen left, and Morne Morkel rendered horse de combat after the ankle sprain he suffered on Saturday. Dale Steyn hammered the final ball of the match for a six to signal the end of one of the greatest Test matches of all time.

Earlier, Du Plesis and Alviro Petersen began the final day on a note of caution, taking their time to assess the bowlers and the pitch. Petersen, who was so fluent the previous day, looked a bit ill at ease, perhaps because his rhythm was thwarted by the long break.

Shami, who was the most threatening of the Indian bowlers, eventually dislodged Petersen on his overnight 76. The right-hander dragged a Shami delivery on to his stumps. That brought Jacques Kallis to the middle amidst a big roar from the crowd. South African circles have been abuzz with the talk of waning powers Kallis and his imminent retirement.

But one of South Africa’s greatest cricketers batted with liberty, notching up a smooth 37-ball 34 with six fours. Kallis’ fluency and Du Plessis’ solidity helped the home side to add 54 in 11.2 overs -- a big factor in them scoring 102 runs in the first session.
It required a rather unfortunate decision to end Kallis’ stay. Zaheer’s incoming delivery scraped Kallis’ bat before hitting his pads, and umpire Rod Tucker upheld the shout for leg-before much to shock of the batsman. The dismissal brought together Du Plessis and De Villiers and the duo batted with such ease that didn’t reveal the enormity of their task. They scored 95 without loss in the post-lunch session, a period where the South African right-handers concentrated more on tiring out the Indian bowlers.

It wasn’t as if the Indians bowled badly in this phase. Several times Zaheer, Shami and Ishant, who did the bulk of the duty, beat the bat, but the edge eluded them. Whenever they managed to induce an edge it fell short of the close-in fielders or flew over the slip cordon as Indians could only rue their luck.